Suspect: That’s a question with a complicated answer.
Inquisitor: I have all day. Have a donut.
Suspect: Thanks. Hey, this is coconut. Nobody likes coconut donuts. At least nobody sane.
Inquisitor: If you answer my questions, I’ll consider allowing you a chocolate one. Now talk.
Suspect: You’re a cruel man.
Inquisitor: I’m a woman.
Suspect: Sorry, the mustache threw me off. What do you know about Major League rosters, specifically the Astros’?
Inquisitor: Don’t insult my intelligence. I’m aware that the Astros have a roster of twenty five major league players, same as all other clubs.
Suspect: Yes, that’s true. But MLB clubs also have a 40-man roster. Only the players on the 25-man roster may appear in the major leagues before September. The rest play in the minor leagues. All of the players on the 40-man roster have a major league contract though.
Inquisitor: So there are fifteen major leaguers on each team who do not play in the Major Leagues? This is quite a story that you expect me to believe.
Suspect: I admit, it sounds odd. Anyway, George Springer, the Astros' dynamite center field prospect who hit 40 home runs and stole over 40 bases this season, is not on the Astros’ 40-man roster. The Astros would need to tender a major league contract to him in order to bring him up in September.
Inquisitor: So what? They have the money.
Suspect: What do you know about the Rule V draft?
Inquisitor: Rule Five? That’s where teams can take other clubs’ minor league players, basically for free.
Suspect: Sort of. There are rules. The only players who can be selected are those who were signed when they were older than 18 and have played pro ball for four years, or players who were signed at 18 years old and have played for five years.
Inquisitor: Don’t change the subject.
Suspect: I’m not. Only players who are not currently on the big league club’s 40-man roster may be taken in the Rule V draft. So at the end of the year, clubs use open spaces on the 40-man roster to protect their best prospects who have been in the minors for a while. Springer has only played professional ball for three years, so he is not eligible to be selected—the Astros don’t need to protect him by adding him to the 40-man roster.
Inquisitor: You are suggesting that the Astros need the space to protect other players, and so they shouldn't add him to the 40-man roster in September.
Inquisitor: But they could call him up, add him to the 40-man, then remove him from the 40-man at the end of the season to make space, right?.
Suspect: No. The only way to remove a player from the 40-man roster is to designate them for assignment. When that happens, the Astros have three options: They can trade the player, release him, or send him to the minors.
Inquisitor: Exactly! They can send him back to the minors.
Suspect: They can't. The only way the Astros can do that is if they place the player on waivers. Springer can only be sent to the minors If no other team in the major leagues claims him from the Astros. The dude hit 40 homers and stole over 40 bases this season. Can you see another team not claiming him? The Astros would basically give him away for nothing before his career even begins. So in other words, if they tried to remove him from the 40-man roster, another team would get him for free.
Inquisitor: Then they should just leave him on the 40-man roster. He’s good enough to play.
Suspect: Look at the Astros’ current 40-man roster. [Suspect hands over a sheet of paper containing 42 names]
Suspect: Let’s play pretend, and say the Astros designate the following guys for assignment or do not re-sign them following the 2013 season: Bedard, Gonzalez, Harrell, Humber, Clark, Pagnozzi, Crowe. Would you say that’s a reasonable list?
Suspect: That’s only seven guys. Now consider this list [hands over another list]. As best as I can figure, there are over sixty Astros’ farm hands not on the 40-man roster who are eligible to be snagged in the Rule V draft. These include Singleton, Wojciechowski, Feliz, Foltynewicz, Velasquez, DeShields, Santana…
Inquisitor: I get your point.
Suspect: …Cruz, Cain, Perez, Borchering, Mier, Hernandez, Martinez, Wates, Robinson, Doran, Quevedo, Buchanan, Cotton, Stoffel, Weiland, Heidenreich…
Inquisitor: Stop it!
Suspect: ..Escalona, Sogard, LeBlanc, Musick, Urckfitz, Morales, Nash, another Martinez, Torreyes, Meyer, Batista, Lin, Moon, Burgess, and probably some more that I’m forgetting.
Suspect: Obviously, you can’t protect sixty guys from the Rule V draft with only seven open spots. Sure, you can cut bait on a few guys who haven’t panned out or who don’t figure to be stars. Paredes, J.D. Martinez, Laird, Barnes, Thames, Corporan, Elmore, Marwin, Keuchel, and most of the bullpen, maybe. But do you really want to clog your entire 40-man roster with players who aren't ready to be major league contributors? And are you really sure that some of those guys from the 40-man that you DFA, especially the ones like Martinez and Paredes, won’t go on to be above-average regulars for your rival when they're claimed?
Inquisitor: But that’s my point. Springer is going to be an above-average major league contributor. He is going to be a star.
Suspect: Maybe. Probably. I hope so. But he’s not Willy Mays, at least not yet. His game has some flaws, namely a sky-high strikeout rate and BABIP that will cause him trouble once he reaches Houston.
Inquisitor: You’re overstating his flaws. What he does well will far outshine them.
Suspect: Maybe. Probably. I hope so. But he has only played 62 games at Triple-A. Another 62 could show us something completely different and give him a chance to improve on those trouble spots with less pressure than he would be under in the majors. Also, who would you take playing time from in September? The Astros still need to determine if L.J. Hoes, Marc Krauss, and Robbie Grossman are a big part of their future. They still need to work Chris Carter and Brett Wallace into the everyday lineup. Barnes and Thames are legitimate major league outfielders. Who sits on the bench so that Springer can get his cup of coffee? Every plate appearance he gets in September is a plate appearance that is taken from a guy the Astros need to evaluate, or from a guy who might showcase his capabilities to facilitate an off-season trade. And then, there’s the monetary cost.
Suspect: Yeah. Fangraphs does a good job of explaining service time. Basically, by keeping Springer in the minor leagues until, oh, June 2014, the Astros could save themselves ten-plus million dollars on the back end of his arbitration years by delaying his Super Two status date.
Inquisitor: Now I know you're making stuff up. Super Two? Wasn't that a J.J. Abrams movie? You say not only should the Astros not call up Springer in September, but they also shouldn't name him the 2014 Opening Day starter in center?
Suspect: As much as fans pretend that money shouldn't matter, that $10 million saved on Springer in the year 2019 could mean a Free Agent signed to plug a hole that pushes the Astros from playoff contender to World Series contender. Also, it’s not the fans’ money, and irresponsible spending can bite a club in the rear down the road. Look no further than what indiscriminate spending on aged veterans did to the Astros at the end of the twenty-aughts.
Inquisitor: Regardless, fans want to see Springer now, and without the fans, the Astros don’t make money. If the fans aren't pleased, they’ll quit watching.
Suspect: Bull. When the Astros are winning again and Springer is in contention for MVP votes, they’ll watch. What they say now is just frustration and overreaction. Besides, the Astros aren't making money anyway. Would Springer in September be more than a drop in the bucket, considering that 60% of the Houston market can’t see him anyway, and fans aren't attending the games because the team is terrible?
Inquisitor: But he needs Major League experience! If he gets it this September , he'll be more prepared for next season!
Suspect: What kind of experience would he be getting? One of horrific losing? Futility? Discouragement, depression, and frustration? And who would he learn from about "being a major leaguer"? What veterans are there on the team he could actually learn good habits from?
Inquisitor: I won’t lie. You have crushed my soul.
Suspect: Patience. Soon enough, Springer will be an Astro. And so will Singelton, Correa, Foltynewicz, Appel, and all the other guys we are all excited to see. But don’t put the cart before the horse. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Every cloud has silver lining. Truthfully, you could pick any one of a number of cliches that apply to this situation.
More from Crawfish Boxes:
- MLB Scores: Athletics 7, Astros 2
- Super Sunday Astros Links September 8, 2013
- MLB Scores: Athletics 2, Astros 1
- Astros Claim Thames
- Astros Saber Update: Jarred Cosart & Brett Oberholtzer